Recently in Monroe county, just outside of Albia in Southern Iowa, a park was built. Welcome Home Soldier Park was built to memorialize military veterans and those who gave their life in defense of this nation. In the park fly the flags of all 50 states. In the park flies the flag of this nation. Also in the park are 21 crosses to honor a veteran who is no longer with us that were purchased by family members of those veterans. The number is 21 to signify the 21 gun salute given to veterans when buried.
More recently, a group out of Washington D. C., Americans United for Separation of Church and State, contacted the county board of supervisors. They claimed that they received a complaint from a resident of the county and notified them that they had 30 days:
- for the city and county to completely divorce themselves from the park;
- pay back any monies donated to the park; and
- the county recoup fair market value of the 8 acres the park sits on or take the land back and remove the crosses.
The group says that since there are crosses on the property, it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.
After reading comments on the park’s FB page, a lot of good points were made to show that this complaint is not valid. I have also come up with a point to show that there are no grounds for this complaint. As I am the Rural Iowegian, I will post my point first and then the others.
- The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”, Congress and the federal government had nothing to do with this park. This was a county and city initiative that does not involve federal land, federal money, or anything else to do with the federal government. The federal government was created to support the states, not dictate the actions of those states.
- In 2010, a case was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States (Salazar v. Buono) that involved a Cross on federal land at the Mojave National Preserve. In a 5-4 decision, it was determined that a cross on public land does not violate the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. While writing the majority decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.” He went on to say that the cross “is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs” but a symbol “often used to honor and respect” heroism. He added: “Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”
- The monies donated by the city come from the local hotel/motel tax and the donation was approved by a majority of voters to help maintain the park. Since a majority of the voters approved of the donation, the unhappiness of one is irrelevant. The law states that for a motion to be approved, it must pass by a majority. The $11,413 donated from proceeds of this tax
- The land was transferred to the park organizers under a 28E agreement that allows the park organizers the use of the land for 20 years as long as the organizers keep the land open to the public. It was not sold to the organizers and therefore no transfer of land was made as alleged in the complaint.
- Since it is still owned by the county, this issue could easily be resolved. All the county would have to do is give each landowner in the county a reduction in their property taxes equal to their share of the fair market value. According to Iowa State University, which determines land values in Iowa according to soil type, terrain, and recent sales of land in the area, pasture land in South Central Iowa is valued at $2,861 per acre for a total value of the land used (8 acres) at $22,888.00. The vast majority of all county operating funds comes from property taxes. The only people who pay property taxes are landowners. Although the exact number of property owners in Monroe County, Iowa is not known to me, since there are a little over 3200 households in Monroe County, let’s go with 3,000 property owners (that allows for people who rent and do not own their residence). $22,888.00 divided by 3,000 equals a reduction in each landowner’s taxes of $7.63. Then, the county having properly reimbursed each property tax payer, could transfer the land permanently to the organization and have recouped fair market value.
- The complainers allege that the person who brought this complaint to them is anonymous. If they cannot prove that the complainant is from Monroe County, Iowa, they don’t have a legitimate complaint. The law provides persons accused of wrongdoing the right to face their accuser. If the accuser is not someone who has been personally wronged or personally affected by a wrong, the complaint is not valid.
The supporters and organizers of this park are holding a rally in support of the park on Sunday, May 15th, 2016 at 2:00 PM. The park is located at 6451 Highway 34, Albia, Iowa. I ask all those who care about honoring American veterans who can, please attend the rally and show your support.
You can also show your support by going to: https://www.facebook.com/events/973671399388434/975493705872870/ and voicing support.